You know, in retrospect I’m actually a little surprised it took this long for me to do a Golan-Globus film.
Few names in the filmmaking industry are connected to so many terrible movies, especially when we limit ourselves to a one-decade period. It’s true that the 1980s in particular were in many ways a golden age of the low-budget B movie, but even when stacked up against the other creative forces of that neon-colored decade, the producing team of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus rises above. Seriously, drink in this list one prolific, terrifying body of work.
Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is in many respects a typical Golan-Globus movie in that it’s simultaneously serviceable and cheap-looking, an amateurish attempt at evoking movies that had a much more genuine, “cinematic” appeal. You watch it, and something just feels implacably off. Is it the actors? Maybe. The effects? Probably. The glaring lack of humor in any of the moments apparently meant to be humorous? Almost certainly. From the moment its imitation John Williams soundtrack fires up, it presents a palpable sense of uncomfortable déjà vu.
This brings us to the easiest way to define Allan Quatermain, which is to simply invoke what it’s trying to mimic—the Indiana Jones series. There’s no subtlety here, nor any attempt to deny the movie’s purpose. In theory, Allan Quatermain is just another of those classic, Doc Savage-style adventurers ripped from the pages of pulp fiction: White, dashing, studious and occasionally bare-chested. But in film execution, it’s simple: He’s Indiana Jones. “Bargain-bin Indy” would be too generous—he’s a severely damaged, foreign-made Indiana Jones knock-off placed on an empty rack with a big, orange “Manager’s Special 90% off” sticker on him.
But hey, if that doesn’t scream “the adventure of a lifetime,” I don’t know what does! Our premise is certainly some classic pulp stuff: A dying man stumbles into Quatermain’s African camp babbling about a lost city of gold, pursued by murderous natives. All of your classic racist tropes are there: The city of gold was created by a “lost white race” in the middle of Africa. Everything is apparently fabulous there—could the whiteness of its inhabitants be somehow linked? You think?
So, what sort of craft beer does one pair with Allan Quatermain? For tonight’s experiment, I’ve chosen Straight to Ale’s Illudium, won over immediately by its spectacularly appropriate label art. Rarely have I had access to imagery that fits the theme so well. The actual product is a massive, English-style “old ale,” which typically means a rich, malty brew stocked away to be aged. It might not be something you’d guard with an entire temple full of deadly traps and guards in feathered headdresses, but for our purposes, it’s just about perfect.
The film, meanwhile, is truly a pain to watch. In my heart, I know that practically everything I’ve ever watched in the course of doing these columns has been far worse from a technical standpoint, but there’s simply something irritating in the characters in Allan Quatermain. They get under your skin, especially Sharon Stone, who plays the love interest in what may be her worst-ever screen appearance. She tears into the role like she really admired Kate Capshaw’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom performance and made a point of adopting all of its most garish characteristics. She literally spends so much time in peril and needing immediate rescue that Quatermain at one point perks up his ears and announces: “I know that scream” to his compatriots after hearing her shriek in the distance. For him, this is just something that happens every Tuesday.
Those compatriots, by the way, include an embarrassed-looking James Earl Jones playing an axe-wielding African bushman stereotype named “Umslopogaas” and a greedy Indian swami character who inexplicably speaks exactly like the Swedish Chef for no apparent reason. Our primarily villain, on the other hand, is a mad priest/Mola Ram substitute whose main traits are looking like Gene Simmons and dipping his victims into giant tanks of liquid gold.
The whole thing simply feels like nobody scanned the completed product for tone. Case in point: When Quatermain shoots a randomly appearing lion to death in a cave and heroic music plays, is that really supposed to increase the audience’s esteem for him? How many other heroes can you think of that actually pump an African lion full of lead? Likewise, when Sharon Stone forces him to put on a suit and then asks him to model it for the servants, and his reply is “Not on your life, which by the way, this suit has put in serious jeopardy,” is that really the dialog you’ve settled on? Because I’m pretty sure our hero just threatened to murder his wife.
The beer, meanwhile, brings some desperately needed class to this affair. Straight to Ale’s Illudium is some truly heady brew, a 11.5 percent ABV behemoth that has further been aged for six months in cognac barrels. Its aroma evokes a booze-soaked private library of rarely disturbed tomes, with a musty, sour tone full of dried fruit and licorice. It’s one of those high-alcohol ales that has an immediate warming effect in the chest, positively brandy-like, very syrupy, fruity and sweet. One can imagine it appearing in an Indiana Jones film, although it probably wouldn’t be Indy’s tipple of choice. Rather, it seems like something that would be sitting in a crystal decanter on Marcus Brody’s office desk, reserved for special occasions and toasts.
The film has none of that dignity. Its casual racism is particularly appalling, even for being 26 years old—a running theme is that Quatermain repeatedly convinces the ignorant black natives that he’s a white god or demon of some kind everywhere he goes. When he finally ends up saving some of those people, it’s because “We’re their last and only hope”—the natives have literally no agency of their own. Keep in mind, this is a film released in 1987. Yes it’s channeling the spirit of classic adventure serials (which were pretty racist, by and large), but come on, guys. Even the single black heroic role involves taking the finest dramatic actor in the entire film (James Earl Jones) and casting him as a literal noble savage. That was the best role they could come up with for James Earl Jones—“a guy with a big, shiny axe.”
It’s difficult for me to recommend watching Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, even with a bomber of Straight to Ale’s Illudium by your side. Perhaps if you had two bottles, a blindfold and some earplugs, it might become acceptable. Better to treat it like Indiana Jones when the Ark of the Covenant is opened—just look away, lest it burn your face off.
Still want to inflict Allan Quatermain on yourself anyway? Check out the trailer:
Rather drink a cognac-barreled old ale from Alabama? Check out Straight to Ale’s Illudium.